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Reading Strategies. For ACTIVE reading. Critical reading —active engagement and interaction with texts—is essential to your academic success and to your intellectual growth. 

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reading strategies

Reading Strategies

For ACTIVE reading

introduction thinking intensive reading

Critical reading—active engagement and interaction with texts—is essential to your academic success and to your intellectual growth. 

Use the strategies described here (listed sequentially, but employed simultaneously) to have confidence in reading your academic texts. 

Introduction:Thinking-Intensive Reading

Previewing enables you to develop a set of expectations about the scope and aim of the text.  These very preliminary impressions offer you a way to focus your reading.  For instance:

  • What does the presence of headnotes, an abstract, or other prefatory material tell you?
  • Is the author known to you already?  If so, how does his/her reputation or credentials influence your perception of what you are about to read?
  • How does the disposition or layout of a text prepare you for reading? Is the material broken into parts--subtopics, sections?  How might the parts of a text guide you toward understanding the line of argument that's being made?

Read through QUICKLY and underline or highlight words that you DON’T know!

There is some vocabulary that is necessary to understanding the precise meaning of a text – these are the words and terms you need to look up.

This will require use of a RELIABLE DICTIONARY and ENCYCLOPEDIA

But be careful not to waste too much time on this - some vocabulary you can figure out from context. Knowing the difference is critical and takes practice.


Annotating puts you in a "dialogue” with the author and the issues and ideas you encounter in a written text.  It's also a way to have an ongoing conversation with yourself as you move through the text and to record what that encounter was like for you.

  • Forget highlighting and underlining!: Highlighting can actually distract from the business of learning and dilute your comprehension
  • Mark up the margins of your text with words and phrases: ideas, important things, connections between text and class discussions. In doing so, you’ll realise the reasons you are reading as well as the purposes your instructor has in mind. Later in the term, when you are reviewing for a test or project, your marginalia will be useful memory triggers.
  • Develop your own symbol system: asterisk (*) a key idea, for example, or use an exclamation point (!) for the surprising details. 
  • Get in the habit of hearing yourself ask questions: “What does this mean?”“Why is the writer drawing that conclusion?”“Why am I being asked to read this text?” etc. 

The best way to determine that you’ve really got the point is to be able to state it in your own words.

  • Outlining enables you to see the skeleton of an argument: the thesis, the first point and evidence (and so on), through the conclusion. With weighty or difficult readings, that skeleton may not be obvious until you go looking for it.
  • Summarizing accomplishes something similar, but in sentence and paragraph form, and with the connections between ideas made explicit.
  • Analyzing requires you not just to restate main ideas, but also to test the logic, credibility, and emotional impact of an argument.  Questions to ask:
  • What is the writer asserting?
  • What am I being asked to believe or accept? Facts? Opinions? Some mixture? What reasons or evidence does the author give to convince me?
  • Where is the strongest or most effective evidence the author offers—and why is it compelling?
  • Is there anywhere that the reasoning breaks down? 

The way language is chosen, used, positioned in a text can be important indication of what an author considers crucial and what he expects you to glean from his argument. 

  • It can also alert you to ideological positions, hidden agendas or biases.   Look for:
  • Recurring images
  • Repeated words, phrases, types of examples, or illustrations
  • Consistent ways of characterizing people, events, or issues

Once you’ve finished reading actively and annotating, take stock for a moment and put it in perspective. When you contextualize, you essential "re-view" a text you've encountered, framed by its historical, cultural, material, or intellectual circumstances.

  • Do these factors change or otherwise influence how you view a piece? 
  • Also view the reading through the lens of your own experience. Your understanding of the words on the page and their significance is always shaped by what you have come to know and value from living in a particular time and place.

Set course readings against each other to determine their relationships (hidden or explicit).

  • At what point in the term does this reading come?  Why that point, do you imagine?
  • How does it contribute to the main concepts and themes of the course? 
  • How does it compare (or contrast) to the ideas presented by texts that come before it?  Does it continue a trend, shift direction, or expand the focus of previous readings?
  • How has your thinking been altered by this reading, or how has it affected your response to the issues and themes of the course?